Swimming in poison: Reimagining endocrine disruption through China’s environmental hormones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This article analyzes media responses to a 2010 Greenpeace China report titled Swimming in Poison. Among other alarming data, the report states that fish from collection points along the Yangtze River showed elevated levels of harmful “environmental hormones” (huanjing jisu), also referred to as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Scholars have critiqued EDC science and activism for its heteronormative pathologizing of intersexuality, nonreproductive sexual activity, and impaired fertility, drawing attention to the “sex panic” at work in EDC discourse. This article shows that such sex panic is neither necessary nor universal in anxieties surrounding EDCs. Unlike media responses to EDC events in Europe and North America, Chinese news articles that followed the report did not focus on anxieties surrounding sexual transgression. Instead, media reactions focused on food safety, industrial capitalism, and the ecological scope of pollution. Based on this analysis, the author argues that the disruptive quality and analytic potential of China’s environmental hormones has less to do with a defense of sexual purity or bodily integrity, and more to do with acknowledging the depths to which human and nonhuman bodies in today’s China are suffused with the sometimes toxic social, economic, political, and chemical environments in which people eat, grow, and live.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-223
Number of pages29
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • China
  • Endocrine-disrupting chemicals
  • Environmental activism
  • Greenpeace
  • Hormones
  • Milk powder
  • Pollution
  • Toxicity
  • Yangtze River

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


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